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Netherlands - EU Constitution Vote

The dutch reject the european constitution

The dutch reject the european constitution

01/06/2005 - Results

Three days after the "French No", the Dutch announced "en masse" on 1st June that they were against the ratification of the text.

In the Netherlands the referendum was consultative but the government had announced that it would accept the result under two conditions: that the participation rate reached at least 30% and that the result would be "unambiguous" i.e. that the YES or the NO rallied at least 60% of the vote.

The majority of Parliament was in favour of the treaty and it is up to them to make the final decision about the text but they will have to acknowledge the opinion of the Dutch people who rejected the European Constitution: 61.6% of the electorate voted NO whilst 38.4% voted in favour. The participation rate was exceptional in an election focussed on a European issue: 63.4%, i.e. 24 points more than during the last European elections on 10th June 2004 when barely four out of ten voters (39.3%) fulfilled their duty as a citizen.

Originally the government was against the referendum – the first in the history of the Batavian kingdom since 1797- the initiative of which came from Parliament.

"The Dutch people spoke last night. The result is clear. Of course I am very disappointed," declared Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende when the results were released. "The ratification process of the Constitution must continue in the rest of the European Union so that we know what the situation is in each country," he added. According to the Prime Minister the rejection of the European Constitution by the Netherlands bears witness to "the Dutch reticence about the entire European process (...) it is not a vote against Europe but people are wondering what will happen to their sovereignty and their identity. We understand these concerns – about the loss of sovereignty, the pace of change in Europe without the involvement of the citizens, about our financial contribution to Brussels."

All of the government parties – the three parties in the government coalition, the Christian Democrat Appeal (CDA), the Popular Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the Democrats 66 (D'66) and the two opposition parties, the Labour Party (PvdA) and the Green Left (GL) – had said they were in favour of ratifying the text. In spite of the negative result they were pleased with the high participation rate in this referendum and the debate that came as a result. "I have never seen as much debate in the Netherlands about Europe and about this country's place in Europe. I prefer it when there is open discussion rather than the continuation of covert discontent," declared the leader of the Labour Party Wouter Bos.

The opposition to the European Constitution rallied, in the Netherlands as in France, a coalition of parties ranging from the extreme left (Socialist Party, SP) to the extreme right (Pim Fortuyn List, the Geert Wilders Group and Leefbaar Nederland), as well as the religious parties i.e. the Reformed Political Party (SGP) and the Christian Union (ChristenUnie). "We are happy that the Dutch did not give in to the scarecrow that the government was waving in their face," emphasised Mat Herben, an MP on the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF). "For years the entire political elite, all of the lobbies and civil servants have raced ahead towards European unity without including the citizens," lamented Ronald van Raak, Senator (SP).

Until the last minute the supporters of the YES vote employed all their strength to try and turn the tide running in favour of the NO vote indicated in all the opinion polls. In the days just before the election government ministers who had been accused of launching a late, lukewarm campaign distributed tracts in the streets, going to schools and debating in various places with the population. Ben Bot, Foreign Affairs Minister and the Prime Minister spoke on TV. On 31st May Jan Peter Balkenende launched a final appeal: "A NO is not in the interest of the Netherlands or of Europe. If you want the economy to develop you must vote YES."

The "Dutch NO" bears witness to the gulf that exists between the electorate and the political classes. A poll that was published on 18th May last revealed that less than one Dutchman in ten (19%) was satisfied with the Jan Peter Balkenende government that had started its term in office with a promise of re-establishing contact with citizens. According to the polls the NO expresses the Dutch refusal to see Turkey enter the Union and on a wider scale their fear of foreigners. The Netherlands has 1.6 million immigrants i.e. 10% of the total population (Central Statistics Office, 2004). Around half of them are described as ‘non-Western', the three main groups being the Turks (around 194,000), the Surinamese (around 187,000) and the Moroccans (around 166,000). "The Dutch NO is closely linked to the country's general withdrawal in on itself" says Richard Wouters, in charge of Europe for the Green Left.

The Dutch also fear the dissolution of their country in an enlarged European Union. They are the leading net contributors per inhabitant (180 euros) to the Union budget and they no longer want to pay for the "big" States such as Germany or France who they accuse of bending the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact. In addition to this the confession of the Netherlands Bank director Henk Brouwer on 30th April last that the florin was devalued by between 5 to 10% when the euro was introduced – confirming the population's opinion about the rise in prices following the introduction of the single currency – did not help in increasing Dutch confidence in the Union.

Finally the Dutch fear that the Union will endanger their free legislation in terms of homosexual marriage, the sale and consumption of soft drugs and euthanasia, that is authorised under certain conditions. "We have been too tolerant with intolerance," maintained Geert Wilders before the election as he tried to find an explanation for the various political events that have shaken the Netherlands over the last three years. "The NO is a sign to the politicians to tell them ‘stop and listen to us'", maintained Maurice de Hond, the director of the main Dutch polling institute. "The country feels threatened, lacks confidence and is withdrawing in on itself" added sociologist Paul Scheffer.

The negative vote by the Dutch should not lead to the government's resignation. "We also campaigned for the YES vote. It would be strange to demand political repercussions now," stressed Frans Timmermans, spokesperson for European Affairs on behalf of the Labour Party. "The referendum was put on the Parliament's agenda at our party's request. It would not be logical for us to demand political percussions if the NO vote wins," declared the Green Left spokesperson Tom van der Lee on 31st May. Only Geert Wilders requested the government's resignation and the organisation of early general elections. The Pim Fortuyn List would like to see the organisation of a wider debate within society: "Political repercussions should not be reserved for the government but for Parliament as a whole since 85% of the Chamber supported the YES vote. All of Parliament should resign but this is not very realistic," declared Agnes Leewis, spokesperson. According to a poll undertaken on 1st June 58% of the Dutch maintained that they did not want the referendum to have repercussions nationally.

"We have a serious problem but we should continue our work," declared the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durao Barroso on the release of the results. "The process must continue in the other countries. We would like them to have the opportunity of achieving the same intensity of debate," emphasised the President of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell.

The Netherlands, in the wake of France on 29th May, became the second State to refuse the European Constitution. Although the European Union cannot ignore these two negative votes on the part of countries with different traditions and histories, in theory the second NO vote should not stop the on-going ratification process across Europe. It has been planned to finalise this process whatever the results recorded in each of the Member States. The Constitution stipulates in article 443-4 that "If, two years after the signature of the treaty amending this Treaty, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter shall be referred to the European Council." The Heads of State and Government as well as the Union leaders will undertake, according to Josep Borrell, "a collective and in depth analysis" of the situation during the next European Council that will take place on 16th and 17th June in Brussels.

To date ten States have ratified the European Constitution: Lithuania (11th November), Hungary (20th December), Slovenia (1st February), Spain (20th February by referendum), Italy (6th April), Greece (19th April), Slovakia (11th May), Austria (25th May), Germany (27th May) and Latvia (2nd June).
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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